BY CASH MICHAELS
OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
Civil rights groups are hopeful that a thorough US Justice Dept. review and re-investigation of the Trayvon Martin murder case will turn up sufficient civil rights violations that will result in a federal trial against the black teen’s killer, George Zimmerman.
One day after a Florida jury declared Zimmerman not guilty for murdering young Martin, the Justice Dept, under strong pressure from the NAACP and the National Action Network, among others, issued a statement saying that it should review the case for civil rights violations.
“Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the Department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial,” the DOJ said.
Reaction to Zimmerman’s acquittal has been strong since last Saturday’s acquittal.
In two public appearances this week, US Attorney General Eric Holder called the killing of Trayvon Martin an “unnecessary shooting,” later adding that the “Stand Your Ground” that allowed Zimmerman to claim self-defense, was causing more harm than good.
Indeed, legendary singer Stevie Wonder announced this week that he would no longer perform in a state that had a “Stand Your Ground” law, in reaction to the Zimmerman verdict.
At last Monday’s 11th “Moral Monday” demonstration at the NC Legislature, NC NAACP Pres. Rev. William Barber came back to Raleigh from Orlando, Fla, where the 104th NAACP Convention is being held, because he and his three sons were so upset by the Zimmerman verdict.
“The thing that became clear to me through all of the and and hurt I was feeling for the lesser value the racialized Southern culture places on black life, is that I needed to come home to talk to my other kids, and to be here with you,” a tearful Rev. Barber told thousands of demonstrators.
“When you are hurting, you need to be around some people who still believe in the possibility of us being one people.”
A national NAACP petition calling for the federal prosecution of George Zimmerman on MoveOn.org generated over 350,000 signatures just a day after the acquittal. Facebook, Twitter and other social media have exploded with angry and distraught reactions from a variety of Trayvon Martin supporters.
Many black social media users said that they didn’t feel that their children, especially young black males, were safe any longer. Others said the Zimmerman verdict proved to them that it was “open season” on young black males.
Civil rights leaders, like NAACP President/CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, expressed their outrage.
“I know I am not alone in my outrage, anger, and heartbreak over this decision,” Jealous said in a statement. “When a teenager’s life is taken in cold blood, and there is no accountability for the man who killed him, nothing seems right in the world, but we cannot let these emotions alone rule.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, called the Zimmerman acquittal “an atrocity,” announced a 100-city “Justice for Trayvon demonstration for this Saturday, and vowed that just like in the 1992 Rodney King case, when after four Los Angeles Police Dept officers were acquitted by a mostly white state jury, the US Justice Dept indicted them on civil rights charges and convicted them, the civil rights community will follow the same pattern now with an exonerated Zimmerman.
Early in the case, the FBI started a probe, but then suspended it once the state of Florida, under pressure from millions of people in the streets and on a Change.org petition, outraged that George Zimmerman had not been arrested, indeed did move forward with a second-degree murder charge.
“George Zimmerman was arrested and charged because we would not back down when he was initially released,” says NAACP Pres. Ben Jealous. “The Sanford Police Chief was removed from his post because we voiced our disbelief that he would overrule his detectives and block George Zimmerman’s arrest.”
But in the end, what looked like a clear case of racial profiling, turned out to be anything but in the minds of the jury.
Zimmerman, 29, was acquitted last Saturday in a Sanford, Fla. court of second-degree murder by a six-woman jury after a three-week trial. Zimmerman was charged by state prosecutors only after local Sanford police investigators failed to arrest the neighbor-watchman after he fatally the unarmed black teenager in February 2012.
Zimmerman claimed self-defense, and that he was standing his ground under Florida law. Prosecutors alleged that Zimmerman followed young Martin walking at night, followed him against police dispatch direction, and then got into an altercation with boy, ultimately killing him.
Zimmerman’s defense worked hard to portray Trayvon Martin as a young black thug, suggesting that he viciously attacked Zimmerman by sucker-punching him, and then repeatedly ramming his head into the concrete.
Lead defense attorney Mark O’Mara even used a slab of concrete during his closing arguments before the all-woman jury, telling them that that’s what Trayvon Martin tried to kill Zimmerman with. He then held up a picture of a bare-chested young Martin wearing a hat to the jury, suggesting that he was dangerous, and that Zimmerman was lucky to be alive.
The prosecution was severely criticized by legal pundits for putting on a lackluster case and weak witnesses, and providing Zimmerman’s defense numerous golden opportunities to turn police investigators and other prosecution witnesses into best witnesses for the defense.
One of the six female jurors told CNN Monday that she was convinced that Zimmerman was defending himself. She said the jury was split in the beginning of deliberations, but towards the end, tearfully agreed to find him not guilty of second-degre murder, and acquit on manslaughter as well.
After the jury, which had deliberated for 16 hours Friday afternoon into late Saturday evening, came to a verdict, crowds outside the courthouse were shocked by the acquittal.
Parents with children – black and white – opened cried, while young protesters displayed banners and chanted, “ The system failed Trayvon.”
There was sporadic violence in Oakland and Los Angeles, California in the days after. But, for the most part, there were numerous peaceful protests across the nation, including here in North Carolina.
President Obama, who weeks after the tragedy last year told the nation that if he had a son, “ He’d look just like Trayvon,” issued a statement Sunday calling for further peace and reflection.
“The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy,” the president said. “Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”
Obama continued, “I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us.”
That’s the way to honor,” the president concluded, “Trayvon Martin.”
The parents of Trayvon Martin, who were not in the courtroom Saturday when the verdict was read, expressed their gratitude for the worldwide support they received in their quest for justice. They are expected to go forward with a civil suit against George Zimmerman in the Florida courts.